In a shocking twist, the Cavs are not as good when Kevin Love isn’t on the court. Monday’s result: A 123-105 loss to the woeful Knicks. Let’s get into it.
Positive: Kevin Porter Jr.’s first start
Porter Jr.’s first start was not entirely perfect. Shooting 3-8 from the line is a red flag, for one. He committed a few silly fouls — namely a closeout on Marcus Morris in the fourth quarter — that a more experienced player probably isn’t making. But starting in Love’s place, Porter Jr. was the Cavs’ leading scorer with 18 points on 6-11 shooting. That’s not nothing. Interestly, he did it by eschewing the mid-range and getting to the rim or shooting three-pointers:
To date, Porter Jr.’s season has been a mixed bag. For every crafty drive and finish, he commits turnover by trying to do too much. But that’s to be expected from 19-year old. And highs like this — where he looks like can hang in the NBA and exceeds expectations — are more important than him playing games where he’s about what you’d expect.
One stat to watch for Porter Jr.: his catch-and-shoot three-point percentage. He came into Monday’s game shooting 7.7% on those shots. He shot better than that against the Knicks. Let’s see if that’s a sign of progress to come.
Negative: Invisible Darius Garland
To cut Garland some slack, he’s 19 years old, played a whopping five college basketball games and, as the team says a fair amount, he’s still getting his feel for the game back. Thirteen NBA games is not enough to feel one or another about him.
But it also feels like Garland should at least be trying to do more. There are glimpses — think of his 11-point third quarter against the Heat last week — but they aren’t all that frequent. In the Cavs’ offense, he’s certainly distributing more than looking to score and that’s probably by design. The problem is that while the passing is a nice development, it’s not what makes him so intriguing. What makes him potentially specially is his ability to get buckets and that has not been unlocked yet.
One possible fix: Adjust the lineups he’s playing with. He starts with Collin Sexton, who Garland has deferred to so far. Sexton is also his most common lineup partner, per basketball-reference. He’s not playing a ton with Jordan Clarkson — a total of 59 minutes coming into Monday’s game, an average of 4.91 minutes per game — but that also means not playing at all with Matthew Dellavedova. A tweak John Beilein could make is bring in Clarkson for Garland in the first and then play a stretch where Garland is on a bunch unit with Dellavedova, Porter Jr., Larry Nance Jr. and someone like John Henson or Alfonzo McKinnie. In those lineups, there’s no one there who will eat up shots and it might force Garland to look for his shot more.
Positive: Alfonzo McKinnie has value
After he played against the 76ers on Sunday, Beilein said McKinnie would have a chance to earn some minutes. Monday was a strong case.
McKinnie is not a long-term starter or anything. But what he is is a capable veteran who can play defense, fill minutes and offer depth. In 30 minutes off the bench Monday, he scored 14 minutes, made three three-pointers and pulled down six rebounds while playing engaged defense.
Again, maybe that isn’t a starter or a night-to-night rotation piece. But he’s a useful player — which the Cavs need — and gives Beilein wing options that aren’t rookies who maybe need a stint in the G League or some time to just learn by watching. That’s not nothing.